Is this the real thing or a substitute? In 1998, Black Eyed Peas released their debut, Behind the Front, and by most accounts, it snugly filled a hole left behind by the absent, optimistic talents of A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. So in the same year that Jurassic 5 complete their first proper release and De La Soul finally return, is there any room for a group like BEP anymore? Well, maybe. While the album fails in its titular intention of bringing together the two exclusionary worlds of rap and rock, it still diligently follows in the footsteps of its predecessor's highs. Maybe one might have to look toward Kim Hill -- the group's backing vocalist -- who seems to have a larger impact this time. Hill hovers over terrific sun-streaked ditties like "Tell Your Mama Come" and the irrepressible "Hot" without a hitch. The other collaborations follow her lead too. From Macy Gray to Les Nubians to Mos Def to, yes, even Jurassic 5 and De La Soul, none of these guest artists feel out of place or contrived. Undoubtedly, this second release finally proves that BEP get to mark their own territory in the history of old-school, soulful -- and playful -- hip-hop. Because Bridging the Gaps is a terrific follow-up full of warmth. Unlike what the advertisements might say, this is a multi-ethnic, multi-faceted substitute that should be accepted immediately. ~ Dean Carlson, Rovi

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